As Notre Dame searches for another QB transfer, Jack Coan's example informs the process

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Saturday, April 02, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND — Back on the transfer quarterback market for the second time in 24 months, Notre Dame hopes to use Jack Coan’s example as both a selling point and a template.

“Jack was the right person, and that’s what we’re after,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said after Sunday’s practice in advance of the Dec. 30 Gator Bowl. “We’re looking for the right guy to come in here and make an impact.”

Under Rees’ tutelage, Coan went 11-2 as the Irish starter in 2021. The Wisconsin graduate transfer passed for 3,150 yards and 25 touchdowns while throwing seven interceptions and taking 34 sacks.

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Considered a game-manager at Wisconsin, where he went 12-6 as the starter before a foot injury opened the door for freshman Graham Mertz, Coan set single-game Notre Dame records for pass attempts (68) and passing yardage (509) in a 37-35 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State and Spencer Sanders.  

Both Mertz and Sanders are among nearly 70 quarterbacks to hit the transfer portal, nearly all of them since the undergraduate window opened on Dec. 5. The list of speculative options for Notre Dame includes Hudson Card (Texas), Brennan Armstrong (Virginia), Devin Leary (N.C. State).

Coan, an undrafted free agent who had auditions with the NFL’s Colts, Raiders and Seahawks, is set to open training camp on Jan. 4 with the XFL’s San Antonio Brahmas. It was on that same date in 2021 that Coan announced his transfer commitment to Notre Dame.   

Notre Dame’s Jack Coan (17) looks to throw during the 2022 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Four days later, Marcus Freeman was hired away from Cincinnati as defensive coordinator.

“Jack was such a positive impact on the room,” Rees said. “That’s part of this. There’s an ecosystem in the quarterback room that we want to keep intact. It has to be the right person, and Jack was that. We’re constantly looking for that. He’s a great example of coming in and working hard and doing things the right way and having an opportunity to play for us.”

Freeman, who debuted as Irish head coach in Coan’s college finale, suggested he doesn’t shy away from mentioning Coan to prospective transfers.

“I like to be able to use that as an example: ‘Hey, we had success with Jack Coan. … I was here when he was doing great things for our offense and our program,’ “ Freeman said Saturday. “You want to be a quarterback here? I’m going to sell Tommy Rees. He’s going to help you develop. He’s going to help you maximize your abilities. How? Talk to Tommy Rees. That’s his expertise.”

More:Notre Dame record-holder Isaiah Foskey to skip the Gator Bowl, enter NFL Draft

Life after Isaiah Foskey

Defensive coordinator Al Golden knows it won’t be easy to replace All-America defensive end Isaiah Foskey, who joined tight end Michael Mayer in opting out of the Gator Bowl to begin NFL draft training.

“The total package, really,” Golden said of Foskey. “Intelligence. Just the way he conducts himself every day. The work ethic. He obviously capitalized on his opportunities, and he exudes class on and off the field. Just a sharp kid. He’s left a great impact on our team.”

Notre Dame linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka (44) chases down Boston College wide receiver Joseph Griffin Jr. (2) during the Notre Dame vs. Boston College NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

After Foskey set the program record for career sacks with 26.5, it’s unclear who might step forward to fill the void at the Vyper position. Golden mentioned Justin Ademilola, Jordan Botelho, Nana Osafo-Mensah and freshman Junior Tuihalamaka as primary candidates, although Ademilola has yet to decide whether he will return as a sixth-year senior in 2023.

A four-star signee out of Granada Hills, Calif., as an inside linebacker, Tuihalamaka has added nearly 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame since his early enrollment last January. A core contributor on special teams, Tuihalamaka flashed in 19 total snaps on the defensive line.

“I just think it’s a great spot for him,” Golden said. “He’s really smart. He’s rugged. He’s already around 250 pounds. He’s in the ballpark already as a freshman, and he gives us versatility there because he still has the qualities to drop (into pass coverage).”

Got Milk? Irish still do

Long snapper Michael “Milk” Vinson’s decision to return for a sixth season came as an early Christmas present for special-teams coordinator Brian Mason.

Prior conversations, most recently during the bye week in early October, indicated Vinson would leave after a three-year run as the starter.  Instead, the Irish will milk another season out of a popular team leader and Patrick Mannelly Award semifinalist as one of the nation’s top long snappers.

Michael Vinson:Got 'Milk'? Notre Dame football does, and his promotional glass is overflowing

“When it came time for the end of the year, (Vinson) decided, ‘You know what, I love Notre Dame. I’m going to stay,’ “Mason said. “There were a couple things he still wanted to get done. He’s clearly the leader of our group. He’s in the office a ton. He watches a lot of film. You just can’t easily replace somebody like that.”

With kicker Blake Grupe and punter Jon Sot moving on after successful grad-transfer seasons, Vinson’s return should ease the transition for the next set of specialists. Freshman Bryce McFerson is set to assume punting duties, Mason said, and the Irish reportedly could add South Florida kicker Spencer Shrader as a graduate transfer.

Notre Dame’s Michael Vinson (65) tracks Cincinnati's Ryan Montgomery (22) during the Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Mason termed walk-on kickoff specialist Zac Yoakam “the second-best placekicker” on the current roster, which for now includes former four-star signee Josh Bryan. Injuries were not a factor, Mason said, in Bryan being left off the travel roster all season.

“He’s had some ups and downs,” Mason said. “I know the season didn’t exactly go where he would want.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

78th Annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

  • Who: No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) 
  • When: Friday, Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: TIAA Bank Field (67,164), Jacksonville, Fla. 
  • TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame opens as a 4.5 -point favorite  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads 3-1 
  • Last meeting: South Carolina won 36-32 in South Bend in 1984.